The Kingdom of Cambodia is the official name of this beautiful southeast Asian country. It is surrounded by other Asian countries including Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. This lush country has a lot of biodiversity including it’s fish population. There are over 850 freshwater species and 435 ocean species of fish. The country has many wildlife reserves, sanctuaries, and national parks, to preserve the natural habitats which are at risk due to the high rate of deforestation in the country. Additionally, plans for dams for hydroelectric power in the areas surrounding the country may put Cambodia’s fish supply at risk.
Fish are important not only for the local ecosystems but also for the local people. Fish from the two main rivers of the country — the Mekong and the Tonlé Sap — are a staple food for the community, along with rice. As well as being highly important, some fish are incredibly beautiful, so read on to discover some of the most spectacular fish in Cambodia!
Snakeheads are a family of fish that are native to Africa and Asia. There are more than 50 species of snakehead, most of which can breathe air and thus can survive for a short period of time outside of the water. Their ability to survive out of the water and the fact they can reproduce up to five times each year means that snakeheads have the potential to become an invasive species outside of their natural habitat. The species found in Cambodia include:
- Giant snakehead: This species is also known as a mudfish. It is popular for sports fishers because of how well it puts up a fight when hooked. They grow up to nearly five feet long and can weigh more than 40 pounds. In traditional Chinese medicine, the giant snakehead is used to help with healing cuts and scrapes. It is also eaten throughout southeast Asia.
- Black snakehead: This is an important fish for food and commercial activity in the area. They grow to be about one foot long.
- Bullseye snakehead: Another name for this species is the great snakehead because it can grow to be more than six feet long and weigh more than 60 pounds. Their meat is considered a delicacy in the region and they are popular for fishing because of how aggressive they can be. There are reports of these large fish eating birds, snakes, and rodents. However, their typical diet includes fish, tadpoles, frogs, and insects.
- Striped snakehead: They grow up to three feet long, but according to experts they are often caught before they reach that size because they are so popular for food. They live in rice fields and floodplains during the wet season and burrow into muddy areas during the dry season. Even though they are aggressive fish, even kids can catch this plentiful species with a simple bamboo fishing rod.
2. Crazy Fish
The crazy fish (Butis butis) gets its name from the behavior of swimming vertically or upside down at times, especially when hunting. They also have the ability to change colors to camouflage themselves with their surroundings to surprise their prey. At their largest they are only six inches long and they eat crustaceans, fish that are smaller than them, and worms. They are eaten and also sold for display in aquariums. Even so, they are abundant and are not classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
3. Somphong’s Puffer
This pufferfish (Carinotetraodon lorteti) can inflate its body when it feels threatened. They are only three inches long. Males are red with bright red eyes, which gives it one of its other names: the redeye puffer. Females are smaller and have such different coloring that they are sometimes mistaken for a different species.
4. Siamese Giant Carp
The most common name for this huge fish is the giant barb, but it is also known as a Siamese carp. In the past, they have been known to grow up to 9.8 feet and weigh more than 600 pounds. However, this species is now critically endangered and no Siamese giant carp that weighs more than 300 pounds has been observed or caught since the mid-1990s. Today, their maximum length in the wild is considered to be around six feet.
The reason for this impressive fish species’ significant decline is overfishing and habitat loss. In 1964, the fishing industry in southeast Asia caught more than 200 tons of giant barb. By the year 1980, only 50 individual fish were caught. The fish is so endangered that in 2005 Cambodia declared it the country’s national fish, to bring awareness to conservation efforts. These efforts include a captive breeding program and the release of young giant carp into the wild. However, out of one release of more than 50,000 individuals, only a few lived long enough to grow larger than one kilogram.
In Vietnam, this fish is popular for fish farming. They are kept in floating cages in rivers or ponds, where they eat algae.
5. Betta Fish
Betta fish are also called Siamese fighting fish. While there is also a genus of 75 fish called betta, the Siamese fighting fish is the one you commonly see in aquarium stores as a “betta fish.” These are thought to be the first domesticated fish species. Experts believe they were domesticated as long as 1,000 years ago for gambling matches, as the fish are well known for their aggression and ability to fight each other.
In the wild, bettas are very territorial and members of the same gender will attack each other if kept in the same tank. Even though there are many betta fish in captivity, they are vulnerable to extinction in the wild because of habitat loss and pollution. They can survive in harsh environments, partially due to a lung-like organ that lets them breathe air.
As pets, bettas come in a variety of colors and patterns and are sometimes considered a “designer fish” due to their long history of breeding. Even though you may have seen bettas in the store in smaller containers they do better in larger tanks with lots of stimulation. Studies have shown that betta fish that were chased around a container with a stick lived longer than those who were more sedentary.
6. Mekong Freshwater Stingray
The Mekong freshwater stingray (Hemitrygon laosensis) is known for its orange underbelly. They can grow up to 24 inches across and they eat invertebrates. They are often caught in nets meant for other fish species. Even when they are caught accidentally, they are still sold at market and eaten. Young Mekong freshwater stingrays are also sold for aquariums. Unfortunately, this unique species is endangered according to the IUCN. While overfishing may have contributed to this status, experts believe a more pressing issue is habitat loss due to pollution, agricultural runoff, and dams.
7. Giant Freshwater Stingray
The giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) is both the largest freshwater fish and the largest stingray in the world. They can grow up to seven feet across and often weigh more than 600 pounds. They are bottom dwellers that eat other fish and small invertebrates. These stingrays have long tails that are up to 2.5 times longer than their body is wide. The stinger at the end of their tail is up to 15 inches long. Due to their long tails, they can be up to 16 feet long.
While giant freshwater stingrays are not aggressive, they are dangerous to humans. Their sting contains toxic mucus and the stinger can pierce bones. Even so, they are endangered because of overfishing and habitat loss. They have been fished heavily in the past for their meat, and for display in aquariums due to their impressive appearance. Additionally, their habitat is at risk due to land development, pollution, and dams. Because of all these factors, it seems that they are not growing as large or they are not living long enough to grow to their fullest potential size. The average weight of giant freshwater stingrays caught by fishers shrank from 51 pounds in 1980 to 15 pounds in 2006.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the official name of Cambodia?
The official name of Cambodia is the Kingdom of Cambodia.
What are some fish species found in Cambodia?
Fish species found in Cambodia include snakeheads, crazy fish, and giant freshwater stingrays.
Are giant freshwater stingrays dangerous to humans?
While giant freshwater stingrays are not aggressive, they are dangerous to humans. Their sting contains toxic mucus and the stinger can pierce bones.
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